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Its been a wonderful job

After three decades, Kris Brown writes last chapter as director

SOLON Think of the Solon Public Library and you think of Kris Brown.
For decades, the two have been synonymous.
But with the dawn of 2021, Solons longtime library director is calling it a career.
Her last day is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 15, 2021
Even though she turns 70 in May, Brown is leaving reluctantly. Personal health issues have been the deciding factor.
Its just been difficult, especially with COVID, Ive not been able to work with the public for probably the last six months and I dont feel Im contributing enough, she noted.
Shes hopeful of being able to see more people by spring, but thats a long time to rely on staff, so it seemed to be the right time to retire.
Brown will miss the social aspect of being the town librarian.
Thats really been a joy, to be able to talk to people, she explained. Especially people who move into the community, its such a nice way to introduce Solon. When they first stop into the library, its often the first or second place they stop and you really get a chance to get to know them early and welcome them. That was always one of my favorite parts of the job.
Although she was born in Iowa City, Brown grew up in the Sioux City area and attended the University of Northern Iowa where she obtained an art degree.
When she and her husband Jim Schmidt moved to Solon, Jim had a job in Iowa City and Brown was a stay-at-home mom.
In 1991, Marjorie Turkal stepped down as part-time librarian and Brown began her long tenure.
We loved stopping in at the little library that was in Solon, she said. When the possibility came up that there was a part-time opening, that just seemed like it was a perfect fit, even though I didnt have any training, to give that job a try.
Solons library had been housed in the basement of the bandstand, and had briefly been located in the former home of Videoland and Solon Swirl, but by the time Brown joined, it was in the small building next to the original high school, now used by the city public works department.
There was barely room for more than one person at a time in the library, she recalled, and storytime was conducted outside during the summer months.
In addition to Brown, another very part-time position staffed the library.
In the mid-1990s, she said, a lot of communities Solons size and smaller had established libraries, but they werent as small as ours.
It wasnt long before the community recognized the need for a larger facility, and in 2001 the new building on West Main Street opened to the public.
The new library was built almost entirely with private contributions.
A building committee worked tirelessly to put together a campaign for a new structure, and it didnt take long to raise the money.
What made the fundraising so easy was it was such an obvious need, Brown noted. The size of that library was just not enough,
With the number of housing developments planned for the area, she added, it was evident there was definitely going to be residential growth.
It was not a difficult position to be in to be fundraising for the library because it was such an asset to the community, she observed.
Brown remembers one of the fundraisers fondly.
Jack Neuzil built a wooden dinosaur to hold a large collection jar and it was stationed in Sams Main Street Market (Food Pride at the time).
At the conclusion of the cash drive, Johnson County Sheriff Bob Carpenter came to Solon in May of 2000, deputized some of the younger library patrons, and the money was transferred to Solon State Bank in a horse drawn carriage with Gene Krob riding shotgun.
That was really fun, Brown said.
The new library opened in March of 2001 after the books were carried over from the old building by a stream of children. It wasnt that far to walk, the weather cooperated, and volunteers were able to quickly assemble the collections on the shelves as they were deposited at the new location by a long line of kids.
Brown is still proud to have been a part of the project.
I was in the middle of it, but I had a lot of help, she explained, noting the contributions of the librarys large support group. Its really been a great community to work with.
The library wasnt open many hours when Brown first started.
As the town grew, she said, so did the librarys services, adding hours, staff and programs.
When she was first working at the library, the annual income was around $25,000. Its now about $300,000, she said.
2020 has been a difficult year to maintain those services.
Libraries throughout Johnson County have responded differently to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We feel lucky that we can be open even in our limited way, versus Iowa City that isnt open at all, she commented. Every library has to adapt the way they can.
Solons library staff put a lot of effort into online and outreach services, but had to protect themselves as well as the community, Brown explained.
Because of the small staff, the library doesnt have a lot of redundancy in who can handle jobs and services when someone is ill.
It may have been at odds with what the community wanted to see, she said, but was a necessary precaution.
Of course, they want to access the library and services, because it belongs to them, she said. The decisions we made we tried to make them so we didnt have to go back, so we could stay at a certain level and not have to flip back and forth as COVID cases rose up and down.
Library patrons are now able to visit in-person through scheduled appointments, although use is restricted to one family at a time and the schedule is usually full, Brown said.
People can also reserve books for curbside pick-up on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, she added.
A lot more people are taking advantage of that. Its quick. We can pull the selections they want, theyre ready to go, she noted. Its a quick process. Its something that libraries may continue after we open up because its a convenient service.
Theres also been a lot of interest in the librarys original online programming.
Hopefully by spring, things will lighten up a little bit and we can open up our services more, she commented.
But that will happen under the watch of a new library director, Elizabeth King, who will be coming to Solon from the Kansas City.
Brown is hoping there will be some time for introductions in the first weeks of January. She wont be in the library, but will be working behind the scenes.
Kind of a quiet farewell, but thats fine with me, she said. I get to come back and enjoy it as a regular patron.
Its been a wonderful job, she said.
When youre in a small-town library setting, you get to know people, you get to know what their interests are, its easy to advertise the benefits of the community, its fun to connect people who like the same things, she said.
Thats all above and beyond just enjoying a good book and sharing the fun of reading or enjoying a good program with the kids. Its really been a fun job and I really wish the best for the next person who steps into the position.
I think they will really enjoy it and hopefully the community will welcome them and it wont take long for everybody to get to know each other.

Solar project

Bob indicated you set the groundwork

Ive been asking for it for years.

This particular board has decided to go ahead with it

With Bobs help

the money for this is leftover from the building
when we built, set aside some money in case there were issues
basically forgotten

discovered that money, decided solar panels would be a good use for the money
weve been trying to make the library more sustainable
swapping out lights to LED

This was the year we got momentum built to go ahead

Would have gotten farther, but we couldnt find anyone who would give us a quote for the roof

One of the conditions to move ahead was to make sure the roof was in good shape and replace it before the panels
Needed two quotes and it was slow going because of the summers natural disaster

Been interested in the conversations the city has been having about the use of solar in parks other facilities

If the library can lead the way in that respect, I think thats a good role for the library, and its something that well be able to provide as an example of the effectiveness of having the panels.

Moxie approached us originally with a leasing program

Kudos to them because a lot of communities cant afford to purchase the panels outright.

Because we had the money, we approached it as buying them

Ended up with a different bid
Rabe Hardware in Mount Vernon

Spring installation tentatively set

Been approved by library board and city

Im really, really happy that were moving forward.